Barnett Newman concerned himself with the cosmos; with the place of a single human, a “zip” of energy, within it. His early work was outer-spacey and not commonly known.
In 1973 I was an art history graduate student. In order to write about Newman’s work I needed to see his early paintings which were not in public collections but in his wife, Annalee’s, upper west side apartment — leaning against the walls.
The critic Lawrence Alloway, my former teacher, arranged for me to visit Annalee (Barney had died two years earlier) and we spent a pleasant afternoon together. She was sweet, unpretentious and accepting as I told her of my plan to explain Barney’s work by likening it to black holes.
At one point she told me that Barney would have really liked me because I wasn’t coy. How sad to have missed him by just two years.
Suddenly, we heard sirens. The living room window looked out on an alley and the apartment immediately across from hers (perhaps twelve feet away) was ablaze. Annalee ran around shouting, “Oh no! They told me it wasn’t safe to keep his paintings here!”
The flames were doused. It was a memorable afternoon.